Meet photographer Neil Krug
His sun-bleached color explosions have created a unique and popular aesthetic style that has been seen in everything from fashion shots to Ikea posters.
His style is a dreamy blend of Americana and psychedelia that is classic and modern at the same time.
Profession: One of today's hippest photographers, especially in the music industry. Famous for his personal style.
Krug is currently the music industry’s favorite photographer, so many of his photos have become album covers, such as Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence to My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall.
Without any formal training, it took some time before Neil Krug became America’s most influential photo artist.
“The only photo class I took was in junior high school, and I flunked it. Sure, I put in no effort at all, but still, it’s hilarious that photography has become my career,” he tells Scandinavian Traveler.
“I’m self-taught, so I learned the wrong way, my aesthetics are wrong. I shoot it, develop it, and after that it gets insane.I completely destroy the image with the wrong tints or paint. I strip the color out and color it in myself.”
Neil Krug has been experimenting with everything from using dental cameras for portraits to using surveillance cameras for fashion editorials.
“I’ve used a lot of weird cameras. It’s like, ‘Why would you even use a military surveillance camera to shoot a person?’ But I don’t do it to be weird. It’s out of pure curiosity.”
It’s a success story, all right, and as with many other success stories, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Krug. In 2013, he went through a life crisis that sent him on a new trajectory.
Down and out, disillusioned and confused, Krug realized he had two choices: he could either throw in the towel or he could start anew.
“It was one of the worst years of my life, for a number of reasons. It was a very ugly time. In the end I just had to decide what it was I really wanted to do next. Instead of giving up I decided it was time to get really serious,” he says, without wanting to go into detail about what made 2013 such a bad year for him.
Before 2013 Krug spent the majority of his time shooting album campaigns for various artists, including Live Aid Kit, Goo Goo Dolls, Scissor Sisters, and My Chemical Romance.
“I was always working for other people and not doing anything for myself. I thought, when was the last time I did something for myself? I knew I had tons of ideas, so I decided to pursue them,” he says.
“You might call it a paradigm shift. I abandoned everything that no longer served my desires in life. These days, I spend less time overthinking things, which is something I did before. Now I just get on with it.”
While still working with pop artists on their music assignments, he has now channeled his creativity into an art project of his own: the two-volume Pulp Art Book.
“That’s my ode to all things exploitation and lurid within the pulp genre,” he says. “It’s the only time I’ve taken on a genre at its core and explored the clichés and pleasures of something that is completely long gone.”
A third book, Indian Girl, depicts a Native American woman protecting the land of her people. “All three books featured my then-girlfriend Joni Harbeck as the lone heroine commanding a narrative that was complete fabrication,” Krug says.
Now that he’s made the mental adjustment and has his creative juices flowing, there’s no stopping them. New ideas come to him when he opens his mind and tunes in.
“Being in motion, doing something physical while you just tune out, helps me activate the creative center of my mind,” he says. “For example, my brain generates new ideas in the shower, but driving a car or to going for a walk may also do the same.”
A s a teenager in Kansas, he made his own movies. Once the movies were finished, he needed a cool poster and when he couldn’t find a photographer, he decided to make the posters himself.
“I started photographing the actors, and I got a feeling of really knowing what I was doing,” he says.
He started posting photos on his Flickr account and suddenly he was receiving requests from bands all over the world asking him to shoot them. The first one to do so was Reuben Wu of Ladytron.
His relationship with Lana Del Rey began in a peculiar way.
“She was a fan of Pulp Art Book, which she had got from a friend who had also told her I was dead. Then someone from her record label recommended me to shoot her album cover and Lana said, ‘I thought he was dead!’
‘The only photo class I took was in junior high school, and I flunked it’
“I went to her house the next day and very soon it felt like we were old friends. The day after that we got to work, started shooting, and we’ve had a rhythm going ever since,” he says.
He says his process from idea to finished artwork is different each time. He also goes through a personality transformation when he looks through the camera’s viewfinder.
“I’m very ferocious about it. I get very aggressive, I mutate into a monster when I look through the camera lens. I become obsessed with meeting my goal until I’ve got it just right. It’s important to fall into a tunnel-vision-like trance and tune out everything else.”
“Male energy is completely different from female energy,” he says. “Men want to look raw, empowered, in control of the situation. You can get that with women too, but you also get more fragility and sensitivity. You get a lot more flavors from women.”
According to Krug, art is the only thing he’s ever succeeded at.
“It’s just so great to be alive doing something you enjoy doing. So much of life is heartache, problem-solving, and crises. When I wake up, I remind myself that there was once a kid who tried and failed at everything and did all these jobs he hated. This is the only thing that has ever made sense to me.”
By Victor Johansson
Published: April 19, 2016
Last edited: April 27, 2016